How bad has it gotten? Here's one symptom. Conservative commentator David French lately published a book called "Divided We Fall" warning of the real possibility of national breakup via secession in reaction against America's ongoing "remaking" by secularist progressives.
With searing images of mob violence at the U.S. Capitol fresh in memory, Joe Biden comes to the presidency as a potential healer of divisions and binder up of wounds. Yet his own prior commitments could prevent him from succeeding in those roles.
No matter how you feel about Biden, that would be bad news, not just for him but for a nation desperate for unity in the wake of shocking evidence of how deeply divided it really is.
Certainly, Biden recognizes the fractured state of the country. Shortly before demonstrators invaded the Capitol, he said Americans "demand action and they want unity." Then he added "we can deliver both." But barring a change of heart, his ideological baggage on social issues including abortion threatens to keep divided Americans' passions at boiling point.
It's not all his doing of course. President Trump's strident rhetoric and legal maneuvering to overturn the November vote -- despite repeated rebuffs by dozens of courts -- bore bitter fruit in the outrage at the Capitol and create a pervading mood of suspicion ominously unlike the restored comity that customarily follows elections.
Viewed in broader perspective moreover, the sense that the bonds of national unity were becoming dangerously frayed dates back well before the election.
How bad has it gotten? Here's one symptom. Conservative commentator David French lately published a book called "Divided We Fall" warning of the real possibility of national breakup via secession in reaction against America's ongoing "remaking" by secularist progressives. Not only that -- a reviewer criticized French for not taking the assault on traditional values seriously enough.
That review, by Notre Dame political scientist Vincent Phillip Munoz in First Things, is worth quoting in its own right for its summary of the secessionist thesis: "The continued unity of the United States is not certain. America may break apart into two or more nations, because Americans are no longer one people. We lack a common culture, we live separately, we believe in different things, we increasingly loathe our political opponents. And things are only getting worse."
To which Munoz adds that French's proffered response to the crisis -- a relatively modest set of procedural fixes -- falls short of its dimensions.
However, that may be, the immediate fear arises from the fact that Biden, despite his old shoe, middle-American demeanor, appears to have bought into the progressive agenda. In which case he -- and the rest of us, too -- can forget about unity.
This is the context for judging the impact of Biden's outspoken advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ issues and his declared intention -- repeated several times during the presidential campaign -- to set aside the restrictions on abortion put in place in the Trump years.
In an analysis circulated by the International Organization for the Family, veteran pro-family writer and editor Allan Carlson notes that these latter include a pro-family tax policy, a pro-family U.S. role in the United Nations, efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, and the appointment of socially conservative federal judges. "Joe Biden will undo all this, as quickly and completely as he can," Carlson warns.
But give the last word to a card-carrying liberal, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni. Writing of prospects for the Biden presidency, he says: "We'll either take baby steps back toward a chapter of American government less savagely partisan than the past few years -- and decades -- have been, or we'll accept polarization and paralysis as the country's default setting for the foreseeable future."
Bruni couldn't be more right. Joe Biden, are you listening?
- Russell Shaw is the author of more than twenty books. He is a consultor of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and served as communications director for the U.S. Bishops.